Alumni Profile: Joe Murtha, BEI ’92

Alumni Profile: Joe Murtha, BEI ’92

Joe Murtha, BEI ’92 waving to crowd after receiving Technical Oscar Award

Joe Murtha, BEI ’92

2012 Technical Oscar Award-Winner.

For Murtha, each patent is like a “gold ribbon” in an exciting field, based on “the idea of being able to do things that have not been done before.”

— Meredith Guinness MA’16

As a seasoned engineer, Joe Murtha, BEI ’92 is used to being able to figure things out. So he and two of his colleagues were more than a little stumped in 2012 when they received mysterious letters from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

“I said to my co-worker Jim, ‘Did you get a letter from the Academy of..’ and he said, ‘Wait, you got one, too?’” said Murtha, a 1992 graduate of Bridgeport Engineering Institute, the precursor of Fairfield’s School of Engineering.

It turned out that Murtha, William Frederick, and Jim Markland, colleagues at Shelton, Connecticut-based Anton Bauer Inc., were to be honored with a Science and Engineering Award — a technical Oscar — for their pioneering work on a long-lasting but lightweight battery system for film cameras with lighting rigs.

The CINE VCLX Portable Power System might not be as recognizable as this year’s Best Actor or Best Picture, but the award — presented by actors Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana — put the Fairfield native and his teammates in the same league as the creators of Technicolor and talkies, and the good folks at Disney animation.

“Not bad company,” said Murtha, now a senior electrical project engineer at Accutrol in Danbury.

Murtha’s passion for engineering began early, as he watched his father, who had also studied at BEI, fiddle with gadgets he’d bring home from his office at Jelliff Corp. in Southport. One day he came home with spools of wire and the spellbound six-year-old helped his dad rig some speakers to an old phonograph, astounded that they’d made sound travel.

“I was hooked on it,” said Murtha, who still has his dad’s reliable slide rule.

At Andrew Warde High School in Fairfield, Murtha said he was lucky enough to have a teacher who created an electrical lab where interested students could build ham radios and learn the wonders of harnessing their inventive spirit.

One of five children, he realized the best way to earn himself a college education would be to work during the day and enroll in BEI at night. While a respected educational institution, BEI at the time had no physical buildings; when Murtha began, he took classes on the Sacred Heart University campus, and the year he graduated, the school was based at Roger Ludlowe High School.

“When my dad went [to BEI] in the late 1940s, early ’50s,” remembered Murtha, “it was at Harding High School in Bridgeport. They were always searching for a home.”

Two years after Murtha graduated, BEI merged with Fairfield University in 1994. “Everybody I knew at BEI was absolutely thrilled,” he said of the announcement that the institute had a permanent home. “We felt immediately like part of the Fairfield University team and alumni.”

Murtha found some familiar faces among the Fairfield University administration and faculty: both Associate Dean Harvey Hoffman, PhD, and the late Paul Botosani, PhD, a longtime professor, taught him at BEI. Murtha credits Dr. Hoffman’s practical approach to instruction with fueling his thirst for discovery.

“There’s a fellow who actually changed my life,” he said, referring to Dr. Hoffman’s instruction of a microprocessors course. “It really turned a lightbulb on for me.”

Dr. Hoffman would be proud to know Murtha has gone on to hold three patents — one for a universal charge module, one for an intelligent battery system, and one for a technique for detecting when a cell pack has reached full charge based on sensing the pack’s temperature.

For Murtha, each patent is like a “gold ribbon” in an exciting field, based on “the idea of being able to do things that have not been done before.”

After 26 years at Anton Bauer, Murtha joined Accutrol, where he develops electro-mechanical microprocessor-based products for the critical environment airflow control industry. Working locally has afforded him the opportunity to set down roots of his own in the area, where he raised his son, Joe, with Carole, his wife of 35 years, who passed away two years ago due to breast cancer.

Often the Monroe resident runs into friends and fellow alumni from BEI and Fairfield’s School of Engineering. “It’s a tight-knit group,” he said of his classmates. “Engineering is a huge field, but you tend to run into the same people.

“And it’s always challenging,” he added, “but rewarding. It’s still, frankly, as rewarding as it was 40 years ago.”

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Living Tributes

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Welcome Back, Fr. Mac

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Alumni Profile: Loan Le ’14, MFA’17

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Donor Profile: John Thompson III and Monica Moore Thompson, P’23

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